Wednesday, August 22, 2007

AfroBasket Comes to Angola

Angolan team in action against Central African Republic. Angola is in the white jersey. Photo from

FIBA’s AfroBasket Tournament is currently taking place in Angola. (FIBA = Federation of International Basketball) Everyone in Angola has Afrobasket fever, including me. Whoever wins this tournament is automatically qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games.

Angola got a lot of attention last year for their surprising qualification for the World Cup. But what I didn’t know before coming here is that Angola is a basketball powerhouse, the best in Africa.

The tournament is taking place in various provinces, including Benguela. The stadiums were built by the Chinese. People were doubtful it would be done on time- in Benguela they didn’t start building until 4 months ago. Any animosity Benguela residents had towards the Chinese were washed away when they entered the sparkling new stadium. Suddenly the Chinese are master builders, helping Angola in their reconstruction efforts!

The goodwill is understandable. Angolans are very patriotic and this is their chance to show off. Things are going very well in the tournament, both in the logistics and the basketball. My American friend Nancy, who owns an English school in Benguela, had the chance to meet the Moroccan team and their head coach. She said he was amazed at everything in Angola: that everything ran so smoothly, that the food was so good and- believe it or not- that things ran on time! (Okay, I had a nice chuckle over that one.) But there’s definitely an air of pride in Lobito, with 7 out of 10 people wearing Angola shirts.

And the fact that the Angolan team is laying the hurt on everyone else certainly helps! The first game I watched was against Cabo Verde. Their win was overwhelming: 100 – 44! It was actually a bit embarrassing, bordering on the unsportsmanlike, because the Angolan team just kept dominating, keeping the better players in and doing fancy dunks.

I’m even staying up past my bedtime right now, watching Angola struggle against their strongest competitor yet. (It’s 10:30 pm. I certainly don’t have the social life I did in New York, that’s for sure.) At the beginning of the second half, they re only winning by 7 points! Their competitor even has an American college basketball player (for the University of New Orleans). Their competitor? Central African Republic. What? Who knew! They’re pretty good, actually.

I’m watching the game on a South African channel. There is an American announcing and a South African accompanying him. During the half, they had a former Angolan team player, talking about Angola. He had this to say: “Oh, Angola is a very popular place for foreigners to take their holidays. And there aren’t that many poor people. If you look at normal Angolans, you will see they have money.” Oh, so it’s normal Angolans that have money! Better not tell that to the 70% of Angolans living below the poverty line.

UPDATE: Angola "barely" won the game, 78-51. Considering that they won their others games by an average of 44 points, CAR was their first real challenge. Angola has now qualified for the quarterfinals.

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